By Laura Haight
Technology is the central gear without which pretty much all business functions would come to a standstill, and most business goals could not be met. Just think of the panic you and your team go into when the power goes out or your Internet access drops off.
Despite this, many businesses go without professional IT support. Sometimes that works out OK, for a while. But eventually growing businesses need more than a good user to manage and maintain their tech assets. The questions: What do I need and when do I need it.
There are four types of tech support your business could be using:
The good user. If you are a pretty small business with just a few employees, chances are you have relied on the expertise of one of those employees for basic help like small scale troubleshooting, software installs, and basic user support.
Internal full time IT staff. Eventually your good user is going to run up against the limits of their abilities or their time, or both. You may decide to add a full time IT staff. Usually you’ll start with a single employee reporting to a non-IT department (most often finance or operations).
Outsourced IT. There are many flavors of this, but for small businesses just starting to realize they need more than The Good User, most often the one-or-two-person “IT Guy (or girl) companies will be your first stop. Many times, these small companies are owned and run by excellent IT professionals who can offer a wide range of services from systems implementation and management, to hands-on tech support. However, as in all fields, not all are created equal. Some can hurt your business, either by errors of omission because they don’t know what they don’t know; or errors of commission because they lack the expertise or the humility to admit it.
Independent consultant or Virtual CIO. This is a hybrid model where a consultant provides the higher level of expertise, management, planning, strategic budgeting, etc., and then directs/manages your local IT employee(s) or MSP. They are the bridge between your operational leadership and hands-on technologists who execute plans and provide support.
The last decade has turned the IT field on its head. Mobile technology, the growth of the cloud, the rise of a social media culture, the maturity of the Internet of Things (IoT), the hacking/cyber attack industry are all relatively new challenges that have changed the skills and expertise businesses need to have in their IT departments.
Let’s look at a few IT bases businesses at all different levels of maturity and size will want to have covered.
Smaller businesses need more technology to help compete against the larger, better capitalized competition. It is less likely that technology is going to be hardware sitting in your office, and more likely it is going to be software delivered as a cloud-based service.
I can’t think of a good reason for any small or medium sized business to take on the responsibility of having an on-premise server. This is bad news for techs who got certified in networks and client-server designs. But the fact is you can do more for less money and far less risk by moving cloud-based alternatives. That said, a lot of you do have servers. But these are not set-it-and-forget-it devices. They need constant management, security updates, patches, fixes, and oversight. If you have servers on site, you need accountable professionals to support them.
Planning technology purchases and system implementations is an important job and requires a leader who can not just figure out where you are, but where you need to be in 2, 5, or 7 years. Hardware lifecycles run anywhere from 3-7 years. Most companies keep equipment significantly longer.. But software demands, end-of-life OS, and changing business needs often dictate true end of life. Even in smaller businesses, IT leadership needs to see that day coming and plan/prepare for what’s next.
A big feature for MSPs is often that they can manage many clients on standard platforms remotely. They do not have to be in your office to monitor and maintain your software and services. That’s true. To a point. But I would not want to entrust my business security and operational functionality to someone I never saw and rarely talked to. Much can be done remotely but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect proactivity.
I like to see the MSP stop in my office periodically to talk to the staff and see how things are going. And to have regular meetings with the business leadership to find out what is happening in the business, understand new directions, anticipate technology responses, and offer guidance on projects. You can’t do that remotely. And businesses -- especially those without strong technology backgrounds among their C-suite -- really need that.
Moving to the cloud is more than just storing your files in different locations, although it can be just that simple to start. But you could miss big opportunities to increase productivity, reduce expenses and streamline operations if you aren’t able to see the collaborative opportunities. Traditional IT staff are the geeks who live to master the equipment. If it’s got a chip in it, they are lovingly attentive. But with people, not always so much. By the same token, IT leaders may not be the people you want setting up your authentication scheme either.
No matter where your business starts out, if you’re growing, you are outgrowing your technology. Eventually, you will need a higher level of IT support to ensure you are really getting the bang for your technology buck.